When One Partner Keeps Obsessing About the Details of a Partner’s Affair
In today’s world of cell phones, text messages and emails, it has become much easier for partners to unearth infidelity – and to be able to follow the communication trail between lovers.
A couple comes to see you after an affair has been discovered. They are in crisis. You know how to handle the immediate crisis and how to slow them down and discourage them from making rash decisions about their future.
Even though the sessions are painful, progress is being made. Then 6-8 sessions later, momentum slows in a common way. The betrayed partner can’t stop obsessing about details and wanting to know everything about what occurred.
Sessions revolve around questions like:
- Where did you sleep with him/her?
- How many times?
- What did she/he have that I don’t have?
- What were you thinking when you wrote this email (or that text)?
The questions become unrelenting and the search for more evidence doesn’t stop.
When this process goes on for too long, it just increases the pain for both partners and leaves you feeling helpless.
For you to keep positive momentum going, it helps a lot to know when obsessing is valuable and when it’s not.
Obsessing and pursuing details can actually be very helpful for betrayed partners to:
- Know what is lost and what they are grieving.
- Externalize intrusive thoughts and images and get some reality testing.
- Get important questions answered directly and honestly.
- Create shared understanding about what actually happened at confusing times in the past.
- Start putting a clear boundary back around the primary relationship.
And in some situations, getting the details reveals that the affair took place in the context of a good marriage and actually “was not personal.”
However, ongoing obsessing is NOT valuable in other ways:
- It enables the betrayed partner to remain distant and avoid looking at his/her own issues.
- The betrayed partner’s vulnerability stays hidden.
- It may perpetuate the same distance that was a catalyst for the affair.
- It keeps Persecutor-Victim dynamics going.
- It may result in the betrayed partner re-traumatizing himself or herself with no relief or repair.
When you are confronted with ongoing obsession, you walk a delicate line. To maintain momentum you must be able to support the positive aspects of uncovering details while discouraging the processes that are destructive.
It takes practice to learn to confront the patterns that maintain regression, while simultaneously supporting the betrayed partner in making a good decision for him or herself about the future.
- Please comment yes or no if you had thought about the positive value of obsessing about details. Do you see other positives or other negatives?
- To learn more about confronting the patterns that maintain regression visit Developmental Model.
This blog post is from a 9-part series called “Avoid Losing Control, Momentum or Direction in Couples Therapy.” Click here to see the other articles in the series.